24 September, 2009

Staffordshire Hoard

Some of the sword hilt fittings, image courtesy of the Staffordshire Hoard website photograph set on Flickr.

A hoard of over 1500 gold and silver artefacts of extremely high quality, many decorated with precious stones, has been discovered in Staffordshire. It has been declared as treasure trove. The date of the hoard is uncertain, but according to the summary report on the official website, the objects analysed so far can be dated on stylistic grounds to the period between the late sixth and early eighth century. A Biblical inscription on a gold strip and two, possibly three, gold crosses may indicate that at least some of the objects may have originally had Christian owners. The date of the inscription is uncertain, with late seventh/early eighth century and eighth/ninth century both suggested. (It should be noted that different objects within a hoard can be of different ages, and that the date of the latest object in the assemblage gives the earliest date at which the hoard could have been buried).

The exact location of the find has not been released. A press report said the site was somewhere near Lichfield. The official website says “in the heartland of the Kingdom of Mercia”, which would be consistent with a location near Lichfield.

Most of the objects are associated with weapons and war gear, e.g. 84 pommel caps and 71 hilt fittings from swords or seaxes (a seax was a long fighting knife or short sword) have been identified so far. Some of the items may be helmet fittings, although it is not yet known how many helmets they represent. There are no dress fittings, brooches or jewellery normally associated with women, and there are no buckles, baldric fittings or strap-ends.

Whatever its origin and whoever buried it, the hoard so far looks like a large collection of very high-status military equipment.

The importance of the hoard can hardly be overstated. It will be fascinating to see what further information emerges from research on the hoard over the next few years.

Much more information, including pictures, on the official website. It was a bit slow to load this morning, and now appears to be down altogether (no doubt due to pressure of traffic following this morning’s announcement!), but I daresay it will come back to life in a few days once the fuss has died down. So far the press reports I’ve read mostly seem to be rephrasing the official press release.
More photos on the Staffordshire Hoard set on Flickr.

Okay, so where might the hoard have come from and who might have buried it? This is essentially speculation, but hey, speculation is fun.

The enormous wealth represented, both by the sheer quantity of precious metal and the very high quality of the craftsmanship, is indicative that the original objects belonged to people of very high status. A reasonably logical inference is that the hoard itself also belonged to a person or group of very high status. (I suppose it could be the results of the greatest ever early medieval jewel heist, but let’s apply Occam’s Razor for the time being.) The amount of precious metal is several times greater than in the Sutton Hoo ship burial, and the craftsmanship appears to be as high, as far as I can tell from the photographs, so we can reasonably infer that the hoard also belonged to someone right at the top of society, i.e. a king.

The hoard was found in Staffordshire, possibly near Lichfield. The area that is now Staffordshire was the heart of the early medieval 'Anglo-Saxon' Kingdom of Mercia. The kings of Mercia had a royal centre at Tamworth, and the Mercian bishopric (later, temporarily, an archbishopric) was based at Lichfield. The most likely people to have owned a vast amount of wealth that ended up buried near the royal centres of the Kingdom of Mercia are, logically, the kings of Mercia.

One of the Christian crosses in the hoard had been folded up as if to squash it into a small space, and it has been suggested that this may indicate that the hoard was buried by pagans. However, I wouldn’t myself put too much weight on that. It seems to me quite possible that the cross could have been squashed when the hoard was buried, especially if it was buried in a hurry in times of trouble, and the folding may represent haste rather than disrespect as such. Unless there's more evidence, I’m not convinced that the folded cross tells us much, if anything, about the religion of the people who buried the hoard, as distinct from the circumstances of the deposition.

The overwhelming predominance of military objects in the hoard suggests that it represents the result of a specific selection process rather than a random collection of valuable objects. It may be that the royal treasury of Mercia was carefully sorted, with military gear kept in one place, jewellery in another, coins in another, precious tableware in another etc, and we just happen to have found the military component. Another possibility is that the hoard represents a sort of “trophy cabinet”, a collection of weapons and armour taken from defeated enemies or tributary kings and displayed prominently in the royal hall or royal church to demonstrate the king’s power and military success.

So far, the date range of the objects covers the late sixth to early eighth century, possibly into the eighth/ninth century if the later date for the inscription is confirmed. Mercia was not short of highly successful and aggressive kings pursuing military expansion at the expense of their neighbours during this period, starting with Penda (c. 633 to 655) and going through to Aethelbald (716-757) and Offa, of Offa’s Dyke fame (757-796). It would not be at all surprising if one or several of these kings (or indeed others whose names have not come down to us) had accumulated a large collection of military trophies taken as booty from defeated enemies, tribute from subordinate rulers and/or gifts from allies. The hoard could have been acquired all of a piece by one of the later kings, or successively added to by several generations. Detailed research might generate sufficient evidence to tell which.

So far, no object in the hoard needs to be dated to later than the early eighth century (although this may change depending on the dating of the inscription). However, that doesn’t mean the hoard was buried then. It may have been buried later, perhaps considerably later, than the latest object within it.

Why might the hoard have been buried? Ritual deposit is one possibility, but a common reason for burying a treasure hoard is to keep it safe from real or perceived enemies in times of trouble. Early medieval Mercia wasn’t short of trouble. Its militarily aggressive kings didn’t always win their wars against other kingdoms, and domestic politics could be violent. For example, Aethelbald, Offa’s predecessor, was assassinated in 757 and Offa had to fight his way to the throne. In the early ninth century Mercia was defeated by the kings of Wessex, and in the mid ninth century the Danes (Vikings if you prefer) arrived and took control. Incidents such as these – and no doubt many others – could provide a context in which a king’s hoard could be buried for safekeeping and the location subsequently lost.

If detailed research confirms the dating as early eighth century, I’d probably look to the political turmoil surrounding Aethelbald’s death and Offa’s accession in 757-758 as a plausible context for the deposition of the hoard. If the dating moves into the ninth century, then the Danish invasion begins to come to the fore as a possibility.

The Staffordshire Hoard looks like one of the most significant finds since Sutton Hoo, and it will be interesting to see what further research can tell us about the hoard and the society from which it came.

Edit: Coverage of the find on BBC Radio 4's PM news programme is available on the BBC iPlayer for the next 7 days. It's the lead item on the news sumamry at the beginning, then fast forward to 5 minutes in for the start of the report and interviews. The interview with historian Michael Wood is especially interesting, He draws the same possible connection with the royal Mercian bishopric at Lichfield, founded by St Chad, as I mention in the post.

Edit: Interesting discussion of the find by Jonathan Jarrett on Cliopatria.

Map links


Susan Higginbotham said...

Fascinating! I was just reading about this on Yahoo's news site, but your post is a lot more informative!

Carla said...

Susan - thank you! It helps that it's a period that I know something about :-) This looks like a truly amazing find. It should keep academic researchers busy for years, if not decades. Apart from anything else, it's the first time we've got something to compare the Sutton Hoo jewellery with. One thing that I haven't found anything about yet is whether the archaeological excavation (after the metal detector located part of the find, an archaeology team excavated the rest) discovered anything about the hoard burial itself. E.g. whether it was in a box or a bag, whether it was packed or all thrown in together, that sort of thing. That can be immensely informative about the circumstances, e.g. the Hoxne hoard (late Roman, about 400 AD) was all carefully packed in cloth and straw into a chest or hamper before it was buried, so it looks like more of a sort of "safe deposit box" than a hoard buried in a frightful rush with the barbarians at the gates.

Misfit said...

Thank you for posting about this, especially your thoughts about where it might have come from.

Anonymous said...

When I saw some of the images over at BBC I thought of sending the link to you. Then I realized that it's basically in your back yard and you'd hear about it soon enough.

It's beautiful craftwork, who ever buried it. That hoard represents many hundreds of hours of work by some amazingly skilled people.


Nicola Griffith said...

I like the notion of it being Wulfhere's.

I've heard that there might be one inscription that's a fragment of a previously unknown riddle. I can't wait to see it!

Rick said...


If it were utilitarian war gear I'd guess that it was hidden by someone planning an armed uprising or coup. But it's hard to imagine that an ordinary functional arms cache would be such gorgeous work.

Also, from the descriptions these are the high-value ornamental parts of weapons, not the whole weapons. (Unless unspectacular rusted iron merely wasn't mentioned in the public reports.)

My imagination spins a story of a defeated king, forced to yield up his treasure, but hiding the warlike stuff in hope of making a comeback. Which, it seems, he never did.

Carla said...

Misfit - Hello and welcome, and I'm glad you found the post interesting!

Ian_M - Thanks for the thought! The skill is truly remarkable. The Sutton Hoo jewellery would tax a modern jeweller, and this new hoard looks to have work of the same sort of quality. Early English metalworkers were very, very good.

Nicola - I daresay there'll be all manner of amazing information when it's all studied in detail and published :-) If the date of early eighth century turns out to be upheld, then Wulfhere couldn't have accumulated the entire hoard because he died in 675, though if it was acquired over successive generations he might well have contributed the earlier pieces. If the hoard was housed in Lichfield cathedral (as a gift to the church or as some sort of royal display, or a bit of both), then Wulfhere and St Chad between them established the cathedral and maybe they also started the tradition that eventually led to the hoard.

Rick - as I understand it, the hoard is just the decorative items from swords and war gear. This is consistent with it being the contents of somebody's treasure chest, but in that case it's odd that the precious objects are so highly selected, with no gold belt buckles or jewellery or coin or plate, although this might just be the result of a carefully catalogued treasury, as I mention in the post.

Possibly the blades of the weapons were refitted for new owners, and it was the decorative items that were retained as trophies (and/or a savings account), or put in the cathedral to the glory of god - though if the stuff was a gift to the church, it clearly wasn't treated as bullion and melted down to make ecclesiastical objects.

If it was tribute paid after a battle by a defeated enemy, as opposed to spoil taken actually on a battlefield, your scenario of a defeated king hanging on to the actual business end of the weapons and armour may apply. You could construct a scenario of a king of East Anglia or Northumbria or Kent stripping the gold from his weapons and armour and sending it off to pay his tribute to his Mercian overlord, but holding on to the functional stuff. In which case your hypothetical defeated king might have made a comeback; as I said, Mercia didn't always win its wars.

One thing that such a large collection of decorative sword fittings should be able to tell us is whether these highly ornamented weapons were actually used in battle or were just parade gear. If they were used in battle, then in such a large sample we'd expect to find at least a few that show signs of damage consistent with battlefield damage. Probably not very many, because if you're fighting an enemy you try to hit him, not his sword hilt or pommel, but probably not zero. My feeling has always been that a warlord needed to display his status and power at least as much on a battlefield as anywhere else so his ornamented sword would go into battle with him, but this hoard offers the possibility of actually providing some evidence to test that.

Another interesting possibility is whether isotope analysis can tell us anything about the source of the gold. 5 kg is a lot of gold; it must have come from somewhere.

Anonymous said...

I think there would be many reservations before any of this stuff was tested destructively, Carla, but they may be able to do marvels with small samples. The selection of wargear fittings is the odd thing about this hoard: as Kevin Leahy says in the press-pack, if they were just collecting metal there should be belt fittings and strap-ends there too. I have my views and will write them up but this is by far the deepest analysis I've seen so far. The pictures of the objects on Flickr may help you with your damage conjectures...

Annis said...

Thanks for the information and interesting background history, Carla. Your comments about the warlord needing to prove his status with a display of his wealth brings to mind the scene in "Paths of Exile" when Aelle and his troops emerge from York glittering in all their adornments. The Bernicians and their Brittonic allies light up at the sight of all this walking treasure, soon to be transferred to new owners :)

The emphasis in the old stories on the lord or chieftain as the source of treasure, the giver of rings and other valuables to his followers, would seem to reinforce the idea of men of rank showing off their wealth in this way. The results of further study of these amazing artefacts will no doubt continue to fascinate us.

Gabriele Campbell said...

Ohh shinies. :)

Those damn ancients should have put a parchment slip with the things they buried, noting date, owner and such. :) We have the same problem with some Roman hoard-like finds. Who, when, why, and can it have been some Germans burying Roman booty?

Carla said...

Tenthmedieval - small samples was what I had in mind :-) I don't know how much you need for isotope analysis, but mass spectrometers don't generally take big lumps of anything. A separate question, which you probably know the answer to, is whether enough is known about isotope signatures from different sources to be able to frame a testable hypothesis. E.g., could you tell whether the gold came from melted down Merovingian coins, or are they so variable that almost any signature could count as a match?

Annis - well, yes, it could send out the wrong message :-) Whether you look like a mighty warlord or so much walking loot depends on the enemy's perception of his strength relative to yours... If it turns out that not a single one of these sword fittings has ever been anywhere near a battle I might have to rethink that scene. Which would be a shame, because the imagery of the treasure-giving lord is such a powerful one in the poetry. There again, there's a line in Beowulf in which the Swedish king Ongentheow, slain in battle, has his sword-hilt (the hilt is specifically mentioned, although in Seamus Heaney's translation it appears to be just the hilt and in Michael Alexander's it's a "hilted sword" - make of that what you will) taken from him by his victorious enemies. Which is consistent with an impressive sword hilt being used in battle, so I can always fall back on that :-)

Gabriele - I suppose for all we know they did, and it decomposed in the soil :-) Clay tablets, that's what you need.

Gabriele Campbell said...

*smacks head* Of course, parchment would have decomposed.

Hm, can I have a coffee at 1 am? ;)

Carla said...

Gabriele - Sleep might be preferable :-)

Rick said...

Carla - I read an observation just a day or two ago that, until quite recently, armies put a fair fraction of their effort and expenditure into looking good. (And isn't modern khaki/gray functionalism itself largely a style choice? But that's another story.)

No doubt some splendid gear was strictly for parade, but showing up in a glittering array, if said glittering array is also ready to fight, can be an effective way to get your way.

I'm not sure, though, whether the condition of the objects will tell us whether similar gear was carried into battle. If it was, and got damaged, it might make it even more valued - or it might be handed to a goldsmith to repair.

The gift-giving tradition could explain why treasure would be categorized, and especially decorative military gear, because that is what a king would naturally award to his military followers. If you're gonna hand out battle awards, you don't want to fumble through a random treasure chest filled with, um, female fripperies. :-)

Anonymous said...

"... could you tell whether the gold came from melted down Merovingian coins, or are they so variable that almost any signature could count as a match?"

Yes, we could, more or less, but that kind of testing is rarely done. We can more easily tell how old goldsmithery is, which means that sometimes people will melt down 'common' medieval gold coins like Byzantine nummi so as to have authentic gold with which to fake something much more valuable like an Anglo-Saxon shilling. I'm flying at the edge of my knowledge here but the fact that we know this tells me that that kind of testing can be done but usually isn't. This time, however, I'm sure it will be. After all, when you have eighty-four gold enamelled sword pommels, who's going to miss one? :-)

Meghan said...


You're the FIRST person I thought of when I heard about this. How fun is it that they discovered such a wonderful treasure trove?

Carla said...

Rick - oh, I think the glittering array would definitely have been ready to fight. You can ornament a sword hilt and scabbard all you like without compromising the efficiency of the blade, provided you don't go so overboard with the bling as to unbalance the weapon.

I'm not sure either, because I don't know whether damage inflicted in battle can be reliably distinguished from ordinary wear and tear, or whether repair work leaves traces that allow the original damage to be traced and identified. Experts can often glean an astonishing amount of information from what appear to be quite minor features (e.g. the tool marks on surviving pieces of wood that apparently identify not only the tool but individual woodworkers), but that sort of thing won't be possible in all cases. Will be interesting to see what emerges in the future.

A curious feature, if the hoard was originally for gift-giving, is the absence of the business end of the weapons. I'd have guessed that a king or lord rewarding his followers would hand out a richly decorated sword as a complete weapon, rather than just the ornamental hilt-fittings. Hrothgar gives Beowulf a sword and helmet (among other things) after Beowulf has defeated Grendel, and they clearly appear to be complete items. Having just the gold fittings would normally make me think this is a bullion hoard (there are plenty of precedents for those), but then it's curious that it's so highly selected. If it was just bullion you'd expect a mix of all sorts of items. On the other hand, Hrothgar pays compensation in "gold" to Beowulf for the death of one of his followers, and as no items are specified that may imply the gold was just valued as bullion (which would be consistent with the early law codes). Possibly gold sword-fittings would be considered a fitting form of bullion for something like this, even if you were just measuring it out by weight of gold. In which case a carefully sorted treasury might make sense, as you suggest.

It wasn't an insult to give feminine items to a warrior (presumably on the basis that he would then give them to the lady in his life), but in the two cases I can think of offhand, the gifts are given by a high-status woman. Wealhtheow, Hrothgar's queen, gives Beowulf a magnificent golden collar, which Beowulf then gives to Hygd when he gets home. And in Laxdaela Saga, Ingibjorg the sister of the King of Norway gives Kjartan a gold-embroidered head-dress for him to give to his fiancee when he gets home (although when he gets home he finds it doesn't work out like that, but that's another story). Perhaps it was acceptable for a woman to give feminine objects to a man, but not for a man.

Tenthmedieval - thanks for the reply! It will be interesting to see if anyone does that kind of testing and what the results are. One possible interesting question might be to see if the objects that look later on stylistic grounds have a different composition to the ones that look earlier on stylistic grounds, as that might indicate that the hoard had been assembled from different sources. Mercia had close links with North Wales in the seventh century under Penda; if any of the gold came from Wales or Ireland that might be interesting to find out. I remember seeing something about the gold torques in the Museum of Ireland; their isotope composition matched the Irish gold deposits around Croagh Patrick, indicating that the gold came from there and wasn't imported from, say, Rome or the Mediterranean.

Meghan - it's a truly wonderful find.

Anonymous said...

A curious feature, if the hoard was originally for gift-giving, is the absence of the business end of the weapons. I'd have guessed that a king or lord rewarding his followers would hand out a richly decorated sword as a complete weapon, rather than just the ornamental hilt-fittings.

Carla, YES, I think this is crucial. I'm writing a Cliopatria post about this right now which hinges on this point. You will be linked as an example of thoughtful analysis :-)

Anonymous said...

Carla: If it was tribute paid after a battle by a defeated enemy, as opposed to spoil taken actually on a battlefield, your scenario of a defeated king hanging on to the actual business end of the weapons and armour may apply. You could construct a scenario of a king of East Anglia or Northumbria or Kent stripping the gold from his weapons and armour and sending it off to pay his tribute to his Mercian overlord, but holding on to the functional stuff. In which case your hypothetical defeated king might have made a comeback; as I said, Mercia didn't always win its wars

"And here is the glittering tribute Your Majesty demanded from us. We couldn't help but notice that you forgot to ask for the pointy iron bits. We'll just hang onto those, shall we?"

Up until recently European warriors wore a startling amount of ornamentation during combat, and gold is one of the easier metals to repair. I expect people will be arguing over the tool marks, scratches, and various nicks on these items for decades to come. There'll probably be a couple of theses in it.

Which is good news for us, because we can hang nearly any story we want on these items and not have to worry about being proved wrong by two pages in a first-year history text.


Gabriele Campbell said...

Good steal was probably more valuable than gold in a warrior society. Look at all those mentions in the Icleandic sagas about crappy swords that needed to be straightened out during combat. ;) On the other hand gold may have had more prestige value, and thus it would make sense to pay the tribute in gold but keep the pointy bits.

And then attach the pointy bits to simpler hilts and get your gold back some day. :)

Rick said...

Serendipitous typo of the month: Good steal was probably more valuable than gold in a warrior society.

I can think of one other reason why the trove might be just the fancy bits, not the pointy bits. A gift sword, however well made, may not be ideally balanced for the intended user. (These being real combat swords, not semi-ceremonial like 18th c. swords.)

If you just give the fancy bits, the user can attach them to his own sword made to his specifications. Poetry could easily ignore such details.

In spite of my flip remark about fripperies, I wasn't really thinking of 'feminine' or other treasures as unsuited to a warrior, but merely out of place on a specifically military occasion - on the parade ground, or the equivalent of a regimental dinner.

That said, it makes sense that high ranking women would give feminine gifts. If the lady is handing out swords (or fittings for swords), something interesting is going on.

Carla said...

Tenthmedieval - thank you. I'll add a link to your Cliopatria post. An interesting issue is what form(s) a royal treasury could take. Hrothgar appears to give both complete valuable objects and bullion, the complete objects given as gifts and the bullion paid as compensation, which may imply that different types of valuable objects had different uses. Which sort of makes sense. But if the hoard was just bullion, the equivalent of hacksilver, it's curious that it was so highly selected.

It seems very likely to me, as you say in your Cliopatria post, that the accumulator(s) of the hoard and the depositor(s) were different people. If the date range stays broad, the accumulation looks like a long process, several generations. Whereas the deposition was a single event, very probably done in a hurry and in response to some extraordinary set of circumstances. 5 kg of gold buried in the ground for over 1000 years is hardly an everyday occurrence, so whatever situation led to its burial and non-retrieval is almost certainly something exceptional. (Something 'storybook', in your phrase!).

If your scenario of a tribute payment is correct, then my flip suggestion of an early medieval jewel heist may come into play :-) Knowing that a shipment of 5 kg of bullion was on its way somewhere might well attract the attention of the 8th century equivalent of the Brinks Mat robbers (who may or may not have been the original owners making a comeback), or possibly even several rival groups. Then you can sketch in a scenario of pursuit getting uncomfortably close, the robbers hurriedly hiding their ill-gotten gains (or recovered property, delete as applicable), a showdown with a lot of shooting first and asking questions later, and no survivors who knew where the hoard was buried...

Ian_M - I can't offhand think of an attempt to disarm a defeated kingdom; the tribute payments I can think of mention things like cattle and precious metals. (Do insert caveat that my offhand memory is not a systematic review!) So maybe it was common practice to demand gold but not the pointy bits. This is not perhaps as daft as it sounds to modern ears, because the relationship governed by tribute could range all the way from being a defeated enemy to being a junior ally. Part of the deal of being a subsidiary king was that you turned up with your army to fight for your overlord when you were told to. Bede mentions Raedwald as having 'retained the military leadership of his own people' during the lifetime of his predecessor as overlord of southern England (Book II Ch 5). There's a debate about what this actually means, and the interpretations are legion, but one interpretation is that the subsidiary kings were expected to follow the military orders of the boss and Raedwald was unusual in retaining his independence. If military service was part of the deal, then you'd have to leave your new (reluctant?) allies with something to fight with, even if you'd commandeered the glittering tribute. And, yes, this subordinate army tactic must have been fraught with risk, and it didn't always work out. Something went very wrong with Penda's army on the eve of the Battle of Winwaed in 655, as Aethelwold of Deira and Cadafael of Gwynedd both upped and left the night before, leaving Penda to defeat. Were either of those two coerced subordinates getting their own back? - your guess is as good as anyone's.

Gabriele - indeed, a good sword had an almost mystical value, didn't it? You wouldn't want to hand over the gold, but you'd mind it a lot less than having to hand over the blade - especially as the blade gives you the possible opportunity to either get the gold back some day or replace it with somebody else's.

Carla said...

Rick - That is certainly possible, and I do wonder what really successful warriors did with a gift sword they didn't need or that wasn't suitable for them. You might be able to rebalance the weapon to some extent by modifying the hilt fittings, but if the blade is the wrong weight or length that's a bit fundamental. In which case you might well take the rich hilt fittings and put them on your own weapon or weapons, modified to fit if necessary. Bernard Cornwell has Uhtred and Derfel adding successive ornaments and mementoes to the hilts of their swords, for reasons of sentiment and prestige (Warlord trilogy and Uhtred series, respectively), and that fictional detail rings very true to me.

I also wonder if there was a market in impressive bling on crummy swords, like go-faster stripes and body styling kits on cars. If the sword and its owner look the part, who's going to challenge them to find out the sword was actually knocked up by a blacksmith on a bad day? A while ago there was a news story doing the rounds about fake Ulfberht swords in ninth-century Scandinavia, for all the world like fake Rolexes today (though with rather more fatal consequences if you found you'd been sold a pup. "Oh, yes, sir, it comes with a lifetime guarantee").

Scott Oden said...

This isn't my era at all, but isn't there something from Beowulf about the victorious warriors stripping the gold from the weapons of their fallen foes? Maybe that's the case here: the shiny bits were stripped and placed in a hoard while the pointy bits were distributed among folks who might have had a need for pointy bits.

Has it ever been said what the hoard was stored in? A chest, a bag, or just tossed into a hole?

Carla said...

Scott - there's a mention of Ongentheow's "hilted sword" (or sword hilt, depending on the translation) being taken by his victorious enemies after he was killed in battle. Towards the end of the poem somewhere (can't remember the line number offhand).

The summary report on the official website says "although the fragments are crumpled they remain discrete suggesting they may have been loosely packed in a bag, which decomposed and was in-filled with earth, but further work is needed to clarify this."

Elizabeth Chadwick said...

It's a wonderful find isn't it Carla?
Friends of mine went to see it on display - had to queue for a while too. The couple in front of them were declaming over the wonderful 'Celtic knot work.' Aaaargh, it's Anglo Saxon Interlace! Others were pondering what part of a sword a pommel actually was.
Makes you wonder what else is out there...

Carla said...

Yes, a wonderful find. Interlace and knotwork in their various forms made up a sort of international style that was popular all over early medieval Europe. With good reason, too; there's something inherently pleasing about the regularity of a braid or plait, and my guess is that any culture with any form of hand weaving would have noticed how pretty a pattern interweaving threads can make and set about adapting it to other materials. I have a book of Icelandic cross-stitch patterns and there's a very similar endless intertwined pattern in it called Icelandic Knot. "Celtic" is a more fashionable label, though :-)

Steven Till said...

Carla, good stuff. I finally had a chance with the move to read your entire post and most of the comments. If it does turn out to be a "trophy cabinet," can you speculate on who the defeated enemies might have been whose items make up the treasure?

Carla said...

Steven - that may depend on the dates of the objects, but if the current date range of late sixth century to early eighth century holds, you can pretty much take your pick. Mercia was very powerful for much of this period. In the early seventh century Penda of Mercia defeated the East Angles and Northumbria, and Bede says that Oswy of Northumbria offered Penda "an incalculable quantity of regalia and presents" if he would cease his attacks on Northumbria (Book III ch. 24). Bede doesn't say whether the treasure was actually handed over (if it was, it didn't work; Penda didn't stop attacking Northumbria), but if it was it's possible that it may have contributed to part of the hoard. Incidentally, the hoard also indicates that when chroniclers like Bede said things like "incalcuable" they may not have been exaggerating. Towards the end of the period, in the eighth century, Mercia was the dominant kingdom, controlling all of what's now southern England, and could no doubt have taken tribute from anybody. If the hoard was accumulated over a long period, it may be that lots of different defeated enemies found themselves contributing to it at different times. It's possible that more research may be able to identify regional styles that may indicate where some of the objects in the hoard may have come from.

Steven Till said...

Thanks, Carla. Makes good sense to me.

Carla said...

Steven - you're welcome.